Many countries like Russia and China are spending significant resources to develop hypersonic missiles. Especially in light of the recent use of hypersonic weapons in the war in Ukraine, the U.S. is rapidly investing in this weapon’s capabilities, which had previously been set aside.
Any missile that travels faster than Mach 5 — five times the speed of sound — is considered hypersonic. These weapons provide a distinct advantage because they move fast, are hard to track and are nearly impossible to intercept. The U.S. has been working on this technology since World War II. However, in a field where the U.S. was once leading, it has fallen behind and is playing catch-up. Between 2015 and 2020, the U.S. increased funding for hypersonic research by 740%, with the latest defense budget requesting $3.8 billion for that purpose.
Current testing capabilities vary, but typically consist of testing scaled-down versions of missiles and components with limited test time. With increased federal spending, along with technological and material advancements, the trend is heading toward building new testing facilities that have the capability to test full-scale missiles and components with greater test durations.
Architecture, engineering and construction firms like Burns & McDonnell work with defense contractors to design and build the facilities and infrastructure needed for developing, testing and manufacturing advanced missile systems.
We partner with leading hypersonic, combustion research, thermal testing and aerothermal companies to build the complicated infrastructure that supports hypersonic testing facilities. These projects require a tremendous amount of power to create conditioned compressed air in the pressure, temperature and quantities required for in-flight simulation. While some test missiles and test components can weigh thousands of pounds, it is also critical to test small-scale models.
Since these facilities are used to test and develop cutting-edge technology, and rely on heavy infrastructure, space and utility requirements, they cannot be built just anywhere. And because the U.S. is in catch-up mode, speed to market is essential to the development of these weapons.
The challenge today is building hypersonic testing and manufacturing facilities quickly. For projects in the aerospace and defense sectors that have high visibility and need to move swiftly, engineer-procure-construct (EPC) solutions represent a strong course of action.
The EPC Advantage
EPC delivery enables hypersonic project owners to compress schedules, since what is needed most is speed. With other countries actively using these weapons, it is important to build up the U.S. arsenal quickly. Speed to market is a cornerstone of EPC solutions, making it a preferred delivery method.
Completion times can be cut by 25% to 30% using EPC solutions. Collaborating with a knowledgeable EPC partner is critical for project owners of hypersonic testing and manufacturing facilities. A good partner will have experience building high-quality spaces and the necessary infrastructure to handle immense amounts of energy. EPC partners should have a thorough understanding of how the facilities are built, how to cut time off delivery schedules, and how to complete projects at the expected cost.
Hypersonic testing and manufacturing facilities can easily take two years to design and another two years to build. A quality EPC firm can help shorten this timeframe by working across multiple teams in all phases of design, equipment supply, fabrication, and construction to develop detailed project costs, project schedules, and advanced work plans prior to the start of construction. This collaborative approach helps greatly reduce project uncertainty as early as possible.
Utilizing other methods of project delivery, between the time of design and the time a facility is ready to build, a company could find itself behind — affected by supply chain issues and rising costs. But EPC solutions enable design, procurement of equipment and construction to happen in parallel, especially in the early stages. This allows a project to be potentially finished in two to three years instead of four. Case in point: The early identification of critical path goods, coupled with ordering and securing them earlier in the process, helps reduce costs due to price increases and can eliminate construction delays caused by waiting for materials.
Hypersonic projects require customized fabricated components and procuring these components typically takes more than a year. For items with this type of lead time, EPC delivery makes it easier to order and/or fabricate components early in the process and store them until needed. This is possible because the construction and design teams have experience with the specialized components and energy systems needed and can rapidly select and secure components to meet client demands.
Working with an EPC contractor to streamline hypersonic projects provides tremendous advantages. Besides saving time and money, other benefits include improved quality and safety, due to collaboration across teams from the outset. By using EPC delivery, project owners can often mitigate the risk of cascading problems, an issue that plagues many construction projects when some teams don’t have exposure to the full development process.
Hypersonic project owners who use EPC solutions for testing and manufacturing facilities are well-positioned to assist the U.S. in improving its missile capabilities. An integrated EPC strategy can help early on to lock in scheduling and pricing, set reasonable project objectives, and enable purchasing at the proper moment that takes into account logistics, inflation, supply chain and more.
Hypersonic testing and manufacturing projects require robust collaboration and planning. To avoid unnecessary schedule delays and high costs for these and other high-profile, time-sensitive projects, EPC delivery can be a highly effective solution.